Revisiting My 5 Best NBA Over-Unders

Six months ago, I inflicted my best guesses on Vegas’ NBA over-unders. I warned people they were ready to throw their money away. So how did I do?

Pop those bottles. Spray that champagne. We’re sailing away on a yacht together.

It took until the very last day, but I went a perfect 5-0. Let’s examine what I got right about these teams, what I got wrong, and who else I should have bet my imaginary Monopoly money on.

Minnesota Timberwolves

  • Vegas: 41.5
  • My Prediction: 38
  • Actual Outcome: 31
  • Expected Win-Loss Record: 37

What I Got Right: It took a few extra months longer than we all assumed, but Karl-Anthony Towns eventually destroyed all comers and Ricky Rubio was underrated. Even still, the 12 game improvement was insane. People might point towards the awful Zach LaVine ACL injury as the culprit, but his on/off numbers read at a -2.6 offensive rating impact and a +1.7 defensive difference. Those numbers can read a bit binary without context, but it also says a lot, 18.9 ppg be damned.

What I Got Wrong: I said Kris Dunn would be useful.

More significantly, I should have made the Timberwolves my lockiest lock. The jump to 41.5 and a playoff berth was wildly overly optimistic, but unfortunately I succumbed to the psychological bias of anchoring. A lot of smart people said otherwise, and I didn’t fully trust my gut. (Don’t worry, my gut turned out to be somewhat off elsewhere. It’s not raining blood yet.) That’s what I thought at least. My expected win-loss record based off point differential was eerily close.

New York Knicks

  • Vegas: 40
  • My Prediction: 37
  • Actual Outcome: 31
  • Expected Win-Loss Record: 30

What I Got Right: This one brings me the most glee, as the organizational dysfunction of the Knickerbockers knows no bounds (He said before the existence of the Kings.). I said that Derrick Rose would bring the drama and by great Odin’s beard, he brought the drama. I said that Rose would bring atrocious defense and once again, he did not disappoint. He stayed healthier far longer than I expected and actually showed some improvements in his advanced stats, but by and large, he costs teams far more than he helps them.

I was also sadly right about Noah, who decided to compete for the two titles of Worst Contract in the NBA and Who Can Get Suspended More than DeMarcus Cousins. He won both.

What I Got Wrong: Not trusting more in the steaming garbage heap-ness of the steaming garbage heap that is the Knicks.

Memphis Grizzlies

  • Vegas: 43.5
  • My Prediction: 40
  • Actual Outcome: 43
  • Expected Win-Loss Record: 43

What I Got Right: The Grizzlies snuck in barely under the line, and I could not believe my eyes. I had written off this prediction ages ago. The core did age, especially a bench-bound Zach Randolph and I called Chandler Parsons “walking porcelain.” Both Mike Conley and Marc Gasol missed time due to injuries. Unfortunately, Father Time remains undefeated, and I was barely right to bet on him.

What I Got Wrong: I’m not sure in which episode, but Zach Lowe mentioned on The Lowe Post podcast that year-to-year, the Grizzlies somehow manage to overcome the randomness of clutch situations. They just outperform their point differential consistently, though they were right on target this year.

An even greater miss was not realizing that Mike Conley and Marc Gasol gained Wolverine-esque healing abilities since last year’s injury-riddled disaster. Conley returned three weeks early from a lower back injury to have one of his best all-around seasons, while Gasol, currently at age 32, had his best offensive season before tailing off late.

I’m glad this group of grit-and-grinders is still relatively healthy and whole, but they definitely made me sweat it.

Portland Trail Blazers

  • Vegas: 45.5
  • My Prediction: 41
  • Actual Outcome: 41
  • Expected Win-Loss Record: 39

What I Got Right: I’m most proud of this one as this is where I deviated from the line the most. It was easy to see a young Blazers team with a burgeoning superstar in Damian Lillard and a star in CJ McCollum continuing in a linear growth fashion. Except, they were capped out to high hell and their playoff performance was a mirage when they barely scraped by the starless Clippers before being crushed by Klay Thompson’s Steph Curry impersonation.

Despite the Jusuf Nurkic trade, Lillard’s white-hot shooting, and the rise of McCollum, I still remain a Trail Blazer skeptic. I don’t know where improvements will come from next year.

What I Got Wrong: Shockingly little.

Golden State Warriors

  • Vegas: 66.5
  • My Prediction: 70
  • Actual Outcome: 67
  • Expected Win-Loss: 70

What I Got Right: I bet on 70, and the EWL was 70. The Warriors actually threatened the best point differential in NBA history (+12.3 by the 1971-2 Lakers) for a while before “settling” for +11.6. I wrote that I had been wrong in my optimism about superteams before but that they would remain title favorites even with a major injury.

In the end, a six game drop-off and losing Durant for two months while remaining the odds-on favorite proved my Oracle of Delphi-like prescience.

What I Got Wrong: It’s really, really hard to integrate stars into a system. Just ask the hapless New Orleans Pelicans. What I should be betting on is the second years of successful superteams. (No one saw a year of the Kobe/Nash/Dwight/Bynum Lakers and thought that was good for round two.) Also, as has been shown repeatedly, clutch performance is random year-to-year, minus the Grizzlies. The Warriors went from devastating last year to very, very mortal.

To be frank, I thought the Warriors were the surest lock of my five predictions, but it took till the last day to beat the Lakers (on a 5-game win streak!) that was inanely, insanely trying to win games.

It’s tough to tell how the Durant injury affected the outcome. The 2-5 record after his injury (and the horrors of facing my TNT Bulls) submarined their chances at becoming the third 70-win team in history. But it also lit a fire under Steph, allowing the Warriors to finish on a 15-game streak and ensure the Warriors were still getting Durant in shape and trying to get some much-needed chemistry reintegration with the whole team.

I don’t think rest would have cost them five wins, but a 15-0 finish seems a lot to ask. This one was closer than I liked.

Over-Under Prediction Final: 5-0


BONUS MATERIAL

Ad Hoc Prediction: Chicago Bulls

In November, I wrote that the Bulls range was 37-45 wins, with a slight revision upwards to 39-43 after their 3-0 start. That’s obviously cheating considering the 38.5 line was already set, but that I believed in a slightly better than 50% chance they would make the playoffs. They finished 41-41 and needed the last day to beat a Brooklyn Nets featuring Chris LeVert and four ghosts, but I was right!

Let’s just forget about the part where I believed in the Pistons and Hornets and dismissed the Bucks due to the Middleton injury. In fairness, I thought they Bucks would be pretty great with Middleton, and I wasn’t wrong.

Either way, my point is not to bet on the Chicago Bulls. I had no idea what they were going to do, I just knew it was going to be messy and unpredictable and excruciating in the soul and I was right. Don’t bet against them, and don’t bet on them. Unless you’re betting on the TNT Thursday home Bulls.

Biggest Regret: Houston Rockets

The Rockets crushed their 41.5 line for 55 wins and an EWL of 57. The line was ridiculously low because of how bad the Rockets were last year, which should be taken into MVP consideration when everyone argues that Harden had the Rockets vastly outperforming their over-under. He might still be the MVP, I’m not sure who is, but I’m just saying it needs to be factored in.

Even still, I should’ve set the line at 45.5. Should I have foreseen flirting with 50 or this incredible +5.8 point differential? Maybe, but even 45.5 would still be far higher than 41.5.

Biggest Sigh of Relief: Utah Jazz

I didn’t understand why a lot of smart people liked the Jazz for 50 wins (O/U at 47.5). Gordon Hayward, George Hill, Rodney Hood, and Rudy Gobert are all good players, but they didn’t exactly inspire me before the season. I’ve also watched very little of the Jazz, and was smart enough to listen to the wiser opinions of better minds than mine.

Final Analysis

As I was doing the over-unders, I realized I was an NBA pessimist. I was one of those people who shorts stocks, not goes long on them. Even my bet on the Warriors was a pessimism for the rest of the league.

I also realized it’s good to bet the unders when people are optimistic about dysfunctional teams (cough: Knicks) and that injuries are volatile until we have better sports science knowledge.

Perhaps I’m drawing too many conclusions from the small sample size of one season. Maybe I’ll go undefeated against Vegas for the rest of my life. And maybe after next season, I’ll see you on an even bigger yacht.

On to the playoffs.

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